The Life of Irène Némirovsky: 1903–1942
Olivier Philipponnat, Patrick Lienhardt
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The first major biography of the author of Suite Française
The posthumous publication of Suite Française won Irène Némirovsky international acclaim and brought millions of readers to her work. But the story of her own life was no less dramatic and moving than her most powerful fiction.
With her family, she escaped Russia in 1919 and settled in Paris, where she met and married fellow Jewish émigré Michel Epstein. In 1929 she published her highly acclaimed and controversial novel David Golder, the first of many successful books that established her stellar reputation. But when France fell to the Nazis, her renown did her little good: without French citizenship, she was forced to seek refuge in a small Burgundy village with her husband and their two young daughters. And in July 1942 Némirovsky was arrested and deported to Auschwitz, where she died the following month.
Drawing on Némirovsky’s diaries, previously untapped archival material, and interviews, her biographers give us at once an intimate picture of her life and turbulent times and an illuminating examination of the ways in which she used the details of her remarkable life to create “some of the greatest, most humane, and incisive fiction [World War II] has produced” (The New York Times Book Review).
a “métèque,” a stateless person, an “irascible little foreigner, with feverish eyes,” a Levantine from the “obscure race,” to whom France would do no favours, obliging this generous-hearted and idealistic young doctor to become a charlatan and, from being a “quarry” to become a “hunter.” For in this extraordinarily abrupt novel it is not Irène Némirovsky who treats Asfar like a “dirty foreigner,” but her smart neighbours from Avenue Hoche. The first model for Asfar is Ghedalia, Golder’s doctor.
have been an ambassador, a minister or a member of parliament. Politically, his nationalism, his anti-Marxism and his upright patriotism were rarely faulted. In October 1935, he had been a signatory to the Manifesto for the Defence of the West, in support of Mussolini, alongside a number of ultra-nationalists whom he accompanied to the Vélodrome d’Hiver on 8th July 1937 to acclaim Charles Maurras on his release from prison. Under his editorship, the Revue des Deux Mondes would become more
1917, quoted by Alia Rachmanowa, Aube de vie, aube de mort. Journal d’une étudiante russe pendant la Révolution, Plon, 1935. 2. L.Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, vol. I, The February Revolution. 3. It is hard to give an exact date for the episode of the mock execution of the dvornik Ivan R. Irène Némirovsky appears to place it during the early days of the February Revolution, although mention of the cheers for the portraits of Kerensky would suggest it was the spring. In any case,
river, without understanding what was happening to you, absurd hope still alive in your heart.”16 Devastation was spreading through Petrograd, leaving a thirst for blood in its wake. The officers and Junkers loyal to Kerensky, who were subjected to unbelievable tortures, were drowned along with those princes who had not fled or had not joined the Reds. The February festivities were followed by a hellish Mardi Gras: children sporting guns and ransacking wardrobes, caretakers put in charge of
of whom, aged eight, she recited the Duke of Reichstadt’s speech from Edmond Rostand’s play L’Aiglon. “I was very excited to find myself face to face with this person who, for us, was a symbol of terror, tyranny and cruelty. To my great surprise, I saw a charming man who looked like my grandfather and who had the gentlest eyes imaginable.” (1932) © IMEC As a teenager, outside the Excelsior Hotel Regina at Cimiez. “It is not the luxury that you admire. You imagine a perfect life in which